Finding Alternatives to Self-Harm

Better to inflict pain on myself than to let other people do it. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

People self-harm for many reasons.  Often people who engage in self-harm behaviors have been victims of abuse or have otherwise had experiences in which they felt helpless to control their emotions and circumstances.  The ability to harm yourself is the ultimate control over your own body.  For some, it is the only control they feel they have.

For others, self-harm provides a relief from emotional pain.  Many report emotional torment prior to self-harm and an absence of feeling during and after the self-harm.  The self-harm, at least momentarily, seems to distract from or alleviate extreme feelings of like loneliness, depression, rage and humiliation.

Self-harm is often a physical sign of emotional pain.  Many feel their emotional pain is unacknowledged, misunderstood or ignored by others.  The physical act of damaging their own bodies validates the intense emotional pain they are in.

Self-harm can also be a powerful communicator.  Self-harm is a clear indicator that something is wrong.  Some self-harm when they are unsuccessful getting the help that they desperately need.  At times initial self-harm elicits help from those around them. Self harm and opioid addiction in Spokane are also linked.

The Problem With Self Harm

The problem with self-harm as a coping mechanism is that the relief from emotional pain is brief.  The pain returns along with guilt, humiliation and, sometimes, self-hate.  It may begin by giving a sense of control, but over time, most report that it increases a sense of being out-of-control.  Although it communicates an intense need for help and often initially elicits help, it’s ultimately a poor communicator.  People don’t necessarily understand what is being communicated through the self-harm, are unable to help solve problems that they don’t understand and ultimately view the self-harm as problematic.

Alternatives to Self Harm

Self-harm can be viewed as a coping mechanism for intense, painful emotion.  In order to change the behavior, it’s necessary to find alternative ways to tolerate and lesson emotions.

Tolerate the Moment.  Different strategies work for different people, but a few options to try, include:

  • distract with anything from exercise and cleaning to holding ice and taking a hot (but not scalding) shower.
  • Self Soothe.  Surround yourself with soothing sounds smells, tastes, tactile objects and sights.
  • Change the moment by using techniques like imagery, prayer and relaxation to change how your body and mind are responding to the moment.

Lesson or Balance Emotions. There are many different ways to manage emotions, with entire books written on the topic.  A few things that may help even out the extremes include:

  • Get Balanced Sleep
  • Eat Balanced Meals
  • Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
  • Exercise
  • Engage in activities that make you feel competent and capable
  • Take care of your physical health.

These are just a few of many techniques to help cope with the overwhelming emotion that frequently in connected to self-harm.  Many more skills are taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Groups and Therapy.  If you want to change this behavior, seeking help is one of the most important steps you can take.  Talking with a therapist or physician can help get connected to treatment.

6 Replies to “Finding Alternatives to Self-Harm”

  1. Christy,
    I Deal with Self Injury (SI)…Started out as a cutter in my teens and grew to burning and branding as the need for MORE emotional release was needed as I got older.

    It is TRUE it is a mal-productive coping mechanism.

    I understood what I communicating with SI! The last time I branded my-self saved my life!

    Does that sounds strange?

    I turned to self-harm over suicide! AGAIN, it was not the best coping skill I had at the time but it did work. The point I’m making is that just because we self harm does not mean we want to kill our-self’s… Many times it just the opposite!!!

    Your points on Alternatives to Self Harm are very good starting points. For me, Drawing has been my salvation…

    It’s been 2 year and 2 month since I last branded…

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  3. I’ve been in therapy for a couple of years now but still self-harm. I have a good therapist. I am building a support base but a lot of times I still feel alone and the pain inside is still too much. I get discouraged because there is a big part of me that wants to recover and not be stuck wearing long sleeves all the time. For me, the biggest obstacle is losing hope, that it is even possible to recover after all this time.

  4. I saw a free school therapist for 1 year and I really did put all my effort into it. But our time has ended together and while I did have less SI moments, I had to deal with the underlying emotions and urges to SI for longer periods of time than I would have if I had just SI and gone back to what I was doing. Also my grades dropped because I spent more time avoiding triggers like stress and fear of failure, self-handicapped to protect my self esteem, and because I spent more time struggling with the strong emotions and depression than I would have if I’d taken it out on myself. Also she warned me that our school’s free therapists can’t see someone long-term and probably can only see someone for 4 weeks, once every other week. This made me lose hope and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back for help, and I’m starting to wonder what’s the point of trying to quit if SI allowed me to achieve more, even if I did pay a price. I used to want help but now I don’t know if I do and that scares me because I think it might get out of control.

  5. There is so much to say, and so much to know, and so much that works. But what really helps and heals the most is so rare used, as it requires at least for me, the absolute truth. (and that grows, of course)

    But it should always be your truth and never a superior knowledge from the therapist as really, only you know the truth.

    I said before that I had a great psychiatrist treating me for this problem. I had had a very severe case of Bulimia for years, and one of the first insights I had was that SI was a way of bringing out into the open how terrible I felt, and to make the invisible visible.

    Bulimia is so painful and horrible but nobody knows and it’s all secretive. SI, on the other hand, is so easy and makes you feel so great and it’s visible from the outside. (I also meant to communicate that anyone thinking SI is dramatically worse than an eating disorder really has got it wrong. SI was the first step in my recovery for myself)

    The worst therapist to have is one who does not listen, doesn’t ask, or doesn’t want to know and explore with the patient. He/she knows it all, or is into the suicide thing just because he doesn’t know any better.

    So this is what my therapist did. He made me show him the wound and if there were bandadges because I had to have many stitches, I had to open them as well. He wanted us both to see the damage done, and together. While looking,this enabled me to explore the ‘why’s’, and know that my therapist was not angry.

    ??? One of the horrors I felt was my increasing dependence on the therapist and I did not want to need him as badly as I did and become a horror patient. I had never needed anyone. SI became a way of cutting myself free from the need, or at least an attempt to do so, and partially a punishment as well.

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